AN: Made it! With over a day to spare.


Maybe Stan was right, Mary mused.

Maybe she could do with a vacation. She had barely stopped for the last couple of months. Since escorting Judy to Minneapolis and back, Mary's life had settled into a not-so-predictable routine. Bullying Walter into shape and convincing him to act like a model witness, if only for a while, had taken all of her energy. Then, dealing with the bureaucracy and paperwork surrounding his relocation had kept her busy until the next emergency had arisen. That had been a teenage girl and a complicated arrangement of parental visitations. Mary had had no time to think during that time. She'd had no time to contemplate Mia's death. No time to analyze the conversation she'd had with Marshall and the subtle change in their relationship over the last few months.

Now she thought about it, it had been like that for most of the year. She hadn't been lying when she had told Marshall it had been a brutal year. It had. And the one before that hadn't exactly been a picnic. Or the one before that.

Tonight, though, she was grateful for the sudden influx of Marshals from Phoenix as it guaranteed her an evening off. Finally she had some time to herself. She poured herself a glass of wine and stretched out on the sofa. She sighed contentedly as she sipped the wine in her silent house and tried to recall the last time she had had an evening completely free of commitments, chores, errands or other responsibilities.

The closest she could come was the two weeks she had spent at Marshall's. The first week, when she had shrugged off her speech therapy sessions, had been a new and unusual experience for her – It was the first time she had nothing to do. And she hadn't found it unpleasant. She had had time to read and had spent one glorious day in bed.

If she took a vacation, she could revisit the the inactivity of that week. This time without the guilt of missing speech therapy.

"Bullshit!" Marshall said. "You wouldn't be reading about the history of the Marshal Service if you truly meant to give it up, so don't give me that crap. You're still a US Marshal. And US Marshals don't spend all day laying in bed."

As Mary recalled Marshall's reaction to her idleness, she was forced to revise her assessment of that week. It hadn't been the relaxing period she was attempting to paint it as in her mind. It had been painful and cowardly. She had attempted to hide from the world only to find herself bored. She had only picked up Marshall's books out of boredom and the need to escape from her speech impediment. True, she had found herself enjoying the book more than anticipated, but since leaving Marshall's all those months ago and returning to work, she hadn't felt the inclination or had the time to read for pleasure.

Maybe she could read if she took a vacation, she speculated.

Other than that, she couldn't think what she would do on a vacation. What did other people do? she wondered. Marshall visited his family when he took vacation, she knew that, but it didn't help her. She thought back to the FTF team she used to work with and tried to recall any conversations she'd had with them about vacations. Something about seeing friends came to mind. Had they gone to see their friends? Like her family, all her friends were in Albuquerque, so that didn't help her either. Maybe they went away with their friends. Mary considered this option. That didn't sound too bad. She filed the thought away for later and picked up the top brochure from the box Jinx had left "just in case". She put it back after only a cursory glance. She didn't need to see more than the cover to know that a cruise wasn't for her.

"What do you need?"

Marshall's voice echoed in her mind, always asking the pertinent question. He had asked her the same question many times over the years. It was always phrased differently, but the sentiment behind the words was always the first time he had asked her, she had answered.

"What do you need me to do?" he asked.

Mary had heard similar offers before and knew they were only made out of politeness. Things must be looking bad if her new partner was being polite to her, he hadn't bothered up to this point in the six months they had been working together. Things had been going from bad to worse all day: Her idiot witnesses had only just thought to inform her that their teenage daughter had gone missing three days ago. If that wasn't bad enough, her new-in-town boyfriend was also missing. It didn't take a genius to figure out they had run off together and it had already been a long day trying to find them. Despite the late hour, Mary wasn't prepared to stop looking. This was the first real problem she'd had since joining witsec and she felt responsible for Jennifer's safety. And now her partner was asking her a polite yet pointless question.

"I need a full threat assessment on the Harpers, I need to know where Thomas was before he moved here and if he has a record or connections to the Kincaid brothers, I need to call every motel in Albuquerque and find out if Jennifer has been there in the last three days, and I need some apple pie and a coffee from Joe's as I haven't eaten since breakfast." Mary rattled off the list quickly, more to clarify to herself what she needed to do than because she expected Marshall to actually do any of it. Nothing had every come of the offers of assistance before, so she wasn't holding her breath for help on this one.

"In that order?" Marshall asked.

"No, Numbnuts, in whatever order gets my witness' kid back quickest," Mary snapped.

"So pie first then?" Marshall asked as he scooped his jacket off the back of the chair and strode out the office.

Mary hadn't expected to see him before morning, but twenty minutes later he had returned with pie and coffee for two and began phoning all the local motels until they had a lead.

Marshall had delivered that night and every time since. The next time he had asked her what she needed, she had replied with a flippant request for a plumber that didn't rip her off and try to peer down her top every time she called them out. The following day there was a business card tucked between the keys of her keyboard when she entered the office. That was when she realised that Marshall's offers weren't to be taken lightly. Subsequent offers were turned down. She was uncomfortable asking for help and relying on others, so she dismissed his offers with a smile and an insult, figuring he would get bored and stop asking. He didn't. At some point, the mere offer was enough for both of them. Marshall accepted the fact that if Mary truly needed something she couldn't provide for herself, or more often for her witnesses, she would say. Mary trusted that on the rare occasion she did tell him what she needed, he would move Heaven and Earth to get it for her. Even if it meant risking his career or breaking the law.

From him, she had learnt the effectiveness of such a simple and direct question when it felt like the world was against you. She had used it several times with her witnesses and it always produced results.

"Tell me what you need," she told Sabrina as they sat in the conference room.

The teenager stared at her a moment before opening up and requesting a phone call to her mom. Mary smiled quietly to herself as she went to set up the secure line.

But, for all the times Marshall had asked that question, she had only asked him it once.

"What can I do on the days it isn't enough?"

The conversation with Mia had forced her to consolidate her thinking about Marshall and her aphasia. She had realised that the coincidence of Marshall always being around when she was relaxed enough to slip into aphasic was no coincidence. There was something about his presence that made her relax. There was something about his quiet understanding that made her feel accepted. She knew that now. Mia had shown her that.

She realised that, like her friendship with Marshall, her too-short friendship with Mia had also made her see things differently. Mia's outlook on life had been refreshing rather than the trite "Live every day as if it's your last" attitude that seemed compulsory after a near-death experience. Mary still didn't understand Mia's lack of anger at her situation. If it had been Mary, she would have been pissed. Had been pissed, she corrected herself. She was still pissed at the world for the events that had led to her aphasia, the aphasia itself, and the events the aphasia had caused. She had traced the roots of Raph leaving back to her aphasia through a twisted and torturous route that wasn't completely free of logic.

Mia had shown her how to let go of some of her anger. She was still working on it, but now she no longer instantly thought of all the bad things that had occurred because if her injury. Now, the first thing that came to mind was the image of Marshall, eyes alight as he tried to puzzle out what she meant. She had found a way to be grateful to the aphasia for bringing her and Marshall closer and making her aware of how much she needed and appreciated him. She couldn't quite go as far as Mia and forgive everything that had happened to her. She still apportioned the blame fairly; Carmello, for shooting her; the Universe/fate, for the aphasia; the aphasia, for Raph leaving. That was one point she and Mia would never agree on.

Despite their inability to agree on that point, the lengths Mia was willing to go to for her family had been something that Mary could empathize with. From the stories Mia had told her, Robin was as much Mia's daughter as her sister Trish's. Mia had told her of the regular family dinners with everybody seated at the same table night after night. Those dinners had defined Mia just as the lack of family dinners in Mary's life had defined her.

Knowing how important Mia's family was to her, Mary admired her strength in choosing to give them up – severing all ties to the people that had known her all her life in order to set Robin the example that a different life was possible. She had chosen to give up her family at a time when most people would need their family most. Not many people would be able to understand the choice she had made, but Mary could all too easily. She knew that while it was a difficult decision, there was also a sense of relief associated with leaving a demanding and domineering family behind. She could also understand the guilt that came with that peace. If she were dying, she felt certain she wouldn't want her family fussing around her. And with that self-knowledge came the familiar guilt attached to thoughts of leaving her family behind.

As Mary refilled her wine glass, she tried to tell herself it was stupid feeling guilty over a hypothetical choice that may never be required. But in her heart, she knew that she had already faced that decision and made that very choice. She had chosen Marshall over her family for the period of her recovery. She justified it by extending her definition of family, looking beyond those across the dinner table to the figure that was always in the background.

The only problem with the analogy, Mary thought, was that she wasn't sure which familial position Marshall filled. His constant presence denied him the role of father figure, who in Mary's world was always absent. She was just as uncomfortable assigning him the role of brother. In the same way she couldn't grasp the concept of a present father, she also couldn't imagine what a sibling that could take care of themselves would be like.

Yet brother was the closest to his actual role in her life. Even Marshall's dad had thought so.

"They say friends are the family you would choose if you could choose your family. I can see Marshall chooses his friends wisely. I'd be proud to have you as a daughter."

She wondered what it would have been like to grow up in the Mann household. She wondered if she would have been held to the same standards as Marshall and his brothers had and if she would have lived up to those expectations. Then she considered that, as the only girl in the family, she might have been spoiled and doted on by her parents. She mulled over the idea that maybe Seth regretted not having a daughter and would accept her as the closest substitute. If that was the case, it occurred to her that maybe Seth had missed a couple of words off the end of his sentence. Perhaps he had meant daughter-in-law but hadn't been sure how Mary and Marshall's relationship stood. It seemed Marshall really didn't talk to his dad about anything of substance.

Mary contemplated Marshall and his daddy issues while she made herself some dinner. As she sat back on the sofa, dinner in hand, her thoughts turned to another man with daddy issues.

Faber.

The man was an emotional mess, she knew that, yet the way he had pursued her, even going so far as to deliver witnesses personally to Albuquerque when they could have been relocated in one of a hundred other cities, held a certain appeal. Perhaps she was just attracted to needy men, she mused. She had thought she had dismissed him from her mind after his week in Albuquerque, but her reluctance to open the Faber wine to toast Brandi's moving out had proved otherwise.

Back then, she had turned him down as her recent split with Raph had meant she wasn't ready to deal with someone with as much emotional baggage as her. But seeing him again as he escorted Gabe to his new home had reawakened something in her. They had flirted and she had been reminded of his quick, dry wit. She enjoyed the challenge of matching wits with him and the way he didn't back down from her. His refusal to stop calling her Kitten was evidence of that.

She wondered if he was the someone she should be looking for. She recognised that any relationship with him would be unlike the one she had had with Raph. That had been tidy: They had both known their roles, even if Raph chafed in his every so often. It wouldn't be like that with Faber. They would constantly be fighting for dominance in the relationship and their combined parent and commitment issues would guarantee the relationship would be messy.

Maybe it was time to get back on the horse, Mary reflected.

If so, the question then was, did she find a nice tame horse that would be easy but dull to ride in order to get her confidence back, or did she take Faber up on his offer and go for a thrilling but potentially short ride with a higher risk of getting hurt.

Unbidden, the image of Bobby D on horseback, trailing a diamond smuggler after him, came to mind. She grinned as she recalled his casual greeting as he rode past and Marshall's open admiration. The grin grew into a full smile as she remembered that that wasn't all Marshall had openly admired that night.

No matter how much she had asked, prodded, cajoled, Marshall wouldn't admit to wanting to throw down with her that night beyond his, "I'm a guy, it's what we do."

The man who would do anything for her simply refused to answer her questions and insinuations. Perhaps there was a limit to what he would do for her, she considered, before quickly dismissing the idea as ridiculous. She thought of what she had said to Gabe that evening. About how she believed in finding someone you'd run through a brick wall for and making sure they knew it. As she had said it, she wasn't sure if she was referring to Marshall being willing to run through a wall for her or vice versa. Both were true and, over the years, Marshall had made sure she knew it without ever saying the words.

Lately, though, he had been more overt in his appreciation of her. Things that had only ever been implied, were suddenly being aired.

"Pretty," Mary said, admiring the fish circling lazily in its bowl.

"And vicious," Dom pointed out.

"Remind you of anyone?"

Mary looked at him and smiled softly. "Thanks."

She didn't think she had imagined the increase in compliments. Had they been like this before she had got involved with Raph? She struggled to recall while she discarded her empty plate in the kitchen. Was the change in their relationship just a reordering to return to a pre-Raph state? She didn't think it was. Something had changed in the intervening years.

"Beauty that's just waiting to be discovered by someone brave enough to fight a path through the thorns."

"They'd have to be very brave. Or desperate," Mary added morosely.

"Or patient."

Marshall's words came back to her with startling clarity. Somehow she knew he had been referring to himself with that comment which made her wonder just how patient he had been. She knew it had taken her a long time to admit that they were friends and even longer to learn what friendship meant. But she had been trying recently to be a better friend, all because of a misremembered bet and a fishing trip that, it turned out, neither of them wanted to go on.

After realising that she didn't know Marshall as well as he knew her, she had tried to make sure he at least knew that she would run through a brick wall for him, even if she didn't know which his favourite Star Trek character was.

There had been hints and comments to that purpose across the years, but they had always been tongue-in-cheek or couched as an insult.

"I'm saying that if you took the time to get to know someone first. To build an emotional connection, even, then maybe you wouldn't find sex so empty."

"So I can't have sex until I have an emotional connection with someone? You know how many people that's applied to over the last ten years? One. You."

Mary recalled there had been an insult after that and something about a life of celibacy. The life of celibacy had been short-lived as she had met Raph and tried to form an emotional connection. At first she thought she had managed it. The sex had been excellent, not empty, which had made her willing to believe that there was more to their relationship than just sex. Raph had believed so too. He had pushed for more and she had finally caved.

She picked up another brochure from the top of the box. She glanced at the picture of what was supposed to be an idyllic location. She and Raph had planned to go to similar venue for their honeymoon. Then, the pictures of the perfectly kept pools and the tiki bars had held a certain appeal. Then, she had been planning to share it with Raph. Now, the vast empty beach just looked lonely.

She hadn't lied to Marshall when he'd asked about loneliness issues: She still relished the stillness that washed over her when she opened the door to her now empty house. She loved that if she left something in the fridge, it would still be there the next day. The day before, she had been able to use the washing machine without having to take a load of Brandi's things out first. But once she had done the chores that had taken her twice as long when there were three or more people in the house, she was left with nothing to do and no one to talk to. The constant quiet was beginning to get to her. Mostly because it gave her time to think. And thinking was something she wasn't good at.

She was better at action. Maybe she should call Marshall and see what he was doing. Then she remembered the weird feeling in the office after their conversation and the fact Marshall had left work early. He may not have offered his usual parting today before he left, but Mary was sure the standing offer still held.

"Call if you need anything."

Problem was, this time, she didn't know what she needed and didn't feel like she could call him without a reason.

As she pondered her inability to determine what she needed, she wondered if a vacation wasn't the answer. She could go somewhere isolated where she could work out what she needed in life and maybe even develop a plan for how to get it. Somewhere where there was no one trying to push their own agenda on her. Although, as she thought about it, her house was now such a location. She glanced at the brochure again. The beach did look nice. The cocktails looked even nicer. It almost looked good enough to make her forget about the discomfort of sand everywhere, even weeks later when the warm beach was just a faded memory. She flicked the brochure open and spent a while admiring the room pictures and wondering how fully she could test the room service before they got sick of her.

Did anyone really need three pools in the same hotel? she questioned as she read.

She was sure she didn't – she had a perfectly good pool in her backyard.

Suddenly she wanted nothing more than to go on vacation. She wanted to go to a place where three pools wasn't an extravagance because the lines between what a person needed in life and what they wanted were blurred. Somewhere where her wants were transformed into someone else's problem and became as imperative to them as a genuine need.

She was sick of trying to work out what she needed. She spent all day every day working out what other people needed and was frustrated at her inability to perform the same action for herself. She wanted to put needs aside for a while and live in a world of wants.

In the world of wants, every whim would be catered to, not matter how trivial.

Perhaps that was why Jinx had collected these brochure, she thought. As a daydream of escape to a place where mundane worries held no ground. Mary had always rejected the idea as self-indulgent. An abandonment of responsibilities. Responsibilities that Mary had assumed whenever Jinx dropped the ball and failed to provide for her and Brandi. Luxuries such as vacations and friends faded into insignificance when the only question on your mind was whether you'd make the rent that month or be evicted.

But Mary was an adult now. She had a steady job. She no longer needed to worry about food or money or rent. Perhaps now was the time to stop worrying about what she needed and start working on what she wanted. Maybe that was why she struggled to work out what she needed. Maybe she had everything she needed and was looking at the wrong list.

She knew not everyone would agree with her definition of what should be in the needs column and what in the wants. She had spent so much of her life struggling to get what she needed to survive, food, money, rent, that she had never had time for the things on the wanted list. After the age of seven, the only wanted list she had known was the one her father was on, she reflected darkly. Stan and Jinx both thought she needed a vacation. But Stan hadn't had her childhood and didn't understand her definition of a vacation as a luxury. And Jinx, well, when had Jinx ever shown an understanding of her needs? she asked herself.

The only person who ever knew what she truly needed was Marshall and he hadn't expressed an opinion on her taking a vacation. Well, he had, just not the one she had wanted to hear. But perhaps, she continued to muse, it was the one she needed to hear. Marshall always seemed to know what she needed. Perhaps it was because he was the only one who ever bothered to ask and wait for a reply. Only once had he attempted to tell her what she needed and even then, he had changed tack halfway through, as if he had realised what he was doing and stopped himself.

"What you need is..." he paused, revisiting what he was about to say, "I get you don't like messy, but maybe messy is what you need."

Even when he explained what he thought she needed, he phrased it as a possibility. He gave her the option to argue the maybe not possibility.

Maybe he was right, Mary conceded.

It was more likely that he was right than Jinx, that was for sure. In all the time she had known him, he had only been wrong once and that was only because her experience with aphasia had given her a better insight into Judy than his theoretical knowledge. Judy would understand her list, Mary was sure. She lived in a black and white world that Mary still secretly envied. Despite Marshall's disagreement, she would still willingly trade some of her emotional baggage for more black and white situations in her life.

"The grey areas in life are the interesting ones. If everything was ordered...There'd be no grey areas, no messy sections where people like you and I live and work and dare I say, thrive."

According to Marshall, disorder, grey areas, and blurred edges should be on her needs lists, not on the wants list that Mary had assigned them to.

But switching them from one list to another implied change and she didn't like change. Messy was a big step. A step into the unknown. She didn't know if she was she brave enough to take it. It required trust. Trust in Marshall. Trust that Marshall was right about this as well as everything else.

Trust in Marshall she had, she just needed to take the step and show him. It wasn't a lot to ask. Certainly not from a man who asked nothing of her other than for her to take a chance to be happy.

She wasn't sure she knew how to be happy. She didn't know what else she needed in her life to be happy.

The one thing she knew she needed was Marshall in her life. She needed him as a buffer for her abrasiveness, as a translator, as her priest, as her friend.

He had challenged her several times recently to reach for something more. To find someone. Today's challenge had held a note of something that Mary hadn't identified at the time, and as she replayed the conversation in her mind, she still struggled to put a name to the emotions running beneath the surface of the words. Desperation? Frustration? Annoyance? Ultimatum?

For the first time since learning what the word aphasia meant, she wished her condition was worse than it was. She wanted the strange ability to read emotions without being distracted by words. She'd trade her language skills for the perception that would let her untangle the true message behind Marshall's words that afternoon.

The hint of ultimatum worried her. If she didn't take him up on his challenge this time, would she lose him? Was that the ultimatum that he had hinted at? Had he finally had enough of someone that made him happy when she was happy, but was never happy?

No, she thought, that wasn't what he said.

"You make me happy. Especially when you're happy."

She wanted to make him happy.

She may not know what she needed in life, but what she wanted was becoming clear.

She wanted to make Marshall happy. She wanted Marshall to be right with his assessment that she could thrive in messy. She wanted to prove to him all the things she could never find the words to say. She wanted to be happy.

It was time to take a chance. It was time to take up his challenge and delve into a messy relationship.

Taking a deep breath, she picked up the phone and dialled. Another deep breath prepared her for the plunge she was about to take as the man on the other end answered.

"So, I have this vacation time owing and Jinx has all these brochures that she's given me. The one I'm looking at seems okay, but it's a couples resort and I don't want to go alone," she said in a rush.

She paused before taking the final step into the world of messy.

"Do you want to come?"


AN: That's all from me for a while. Huge thanks to BuJyo and Roar who have beta-d various chapters and provided me with medical info and ideas throughout. Thank you, too, for reading and reviewing. Enjoy season 4!